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The AFL-CIO is the largest union in the United States.

The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, or the AFL-CIO, is the largest and most recognizable labor union in the United States. The organization was founded in 1955 through the union of the AFL and CIO unions. Union membership peaked in 1979 with nearly 20 million members.

Union Workers Striking

Due to American policies against organized labor that began during the Reagan administration (1981-1989), unions have been in decline. One notable incident was the August 1981 firing of federal air traffic controllers. Many jobs moved overseas to increase profits starting in the 1990s. A good example of this is the outsourcing of customer service operations of various corporations to India and the Philippines. This continues to this day.

While the AFL-CIO still boasts 12 million members as of 2014, the prospect of unionizing has been hamstrung by laws and regulations that favor business owners. But the gaming industry may give new life to unions despite recent events. The gaming industry has a workforce that may advance the cause of labor. Much of the industry is under 40 and its workers tend to vote Democrat. There are also many contractors in the industry who wish for more steady work and better working conditions and benefits that full-time employees enjoy.

Could unionization make a comeback through the gaming industry?

Due to Activision Blizzard laying off of 8% of its workforce, some individuals and organizations have called for the ouster of CEO Bobby Kotick. This also sparked a larger conversation over the unionization of game development workers. The AFL-CIO recently made a statement on the events in the game industry. Drawing the attention of the largest union in the United States (especially one that does not focus on game development) is a sign that unionization has uncharted waters to explore.

EA CEO Andrew Wilson

“While you’re putting in crunch time, your bosses are ringing the opening bell on Wall Street,” said AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer Liz Shuler. Shuler specifically names Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick and Electronic Arts (EA) CEO Andrew Wilson in her letter. “While you’re creating some of the most groundbreaking products of our time, they’re pocketing billions. While you’re fighting through exhaustion and putting your soul into a game, Bobby Kotick and Andrew Wilson are toasting to ‘their’ success.” Kotick makes almost $30 million a year, while Wilson pockets close to $36 million in a year.

Game Dev Union Bobby Kotick

Kotick and Wilson are unlikely to resign or be fired, but it could spark change in the industry.

As we mentioned in previous articles on the topic, Kotick and Wilson’s positions are safe barring any shocking change. However, unionization may challenge their $30 million+ yearly salaries. It may even change working conditions at game developers. Like in many other industries, game development workers could see far more than the usual 40 hours a week. Some have reported working close to 100 hours a week or more during “crunch”. Crunch is defined as a sudden spike in work hours that may last for days or even months.

What do you think of the woes in the gaming industry attracting the attention of the labor movement? Should game development workers form their own union? Would it change working conditions in the gaming industry? Let us know in the comments below!